Surging violence drives thousands of Congolese from their homes
When gun and machete-toting assailants swept into her village and started hacking at her neighbours, Priscilla ran for her life.
“They cut my parents’ throats and killed them because they were too old to run,” says the 48-year-old. “We hid in the bush for three days, almost naked, with barely anything on our backs.”
Another survivor of the violence, Charlotte, lost her nephew and two nieces who were killed on the night she fled.
“We heard gunshots and ran to the bush and slept there,” she says. “We went back to check on our house, but they had burnt it down.”
The 60-year-old added that the entire population of two large villages fled that day.
“They cut my parents’ throats and killed them because they were too old to run.”
Brutal killings in the Beni Territory of the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s North Kivu province have forced tens of thousands of people like Priscilla and Charlotte to abandon their homes in recent weeks.
The spiraling violence in the volatile area - located between towns along the shared border with Uganda - has hit hundreds of indigenous Mbuti families hard, uprooting them from their traditional lands where most lived as hunter-gatherers.
The majority fleeing the area – now known as “The Triangle of Death” - have settled in makeshift sites around the towns of Mavivi, Oicha and Eringeti, where conditions are grim.
Families are sleeping on the bare ground, barely protected from the elements by flimsy shelters. Most have few means of survival as they can no longer go hunting for pigs, antelopes and monkeys in the forest, which has fallen to the control of armed groups.
Violence by marauding armed groups – more than 100 of whom are thought to be active in North Kivu - has uprooted well over a million people in the province, the highest concentration of internally displaced people anywhere in the DRC.
Since October 2017, intense conflict has left populations living in a state of siege, with reports of increased human rights violations and restricted humanitarian access. It is estimated that half a million people have been driven from their homes in the province since January alone.
UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, today warned of the deteriorating humanitarian situation in the Beni Territory – which has a population of 1.3 million people. Conditions have been aggravated by an outbreak of the Ebola virus, which has killed dozens of people in recent weeks.
"The civilian population has been caught for months in an armed conflict that shows no signs of letting up.”
“UNHCR is extremely worried about the situation in and around Beni, where the civilian population has been caught for months in an armed conflict that shows no signs of letting up,” said Marie-Hélène Verney, UNHCR’s Head of sub-office in Goma, North Kivu.
Verney added that UNHCR is doing everything possible to work with host communities, the displaced and local authorities, to find solutions for the crisis.
Among the recently displaced is Emeria, who fled her home town of Makembi after armed groups attacked. Now living in precarious conditions, she recalls simpler days living in the forest which has sustained her community for centuries.
“We were never hungry, we could eat anything we wanted and we had our fields,” she said. “But now we don’t dare return, it is too dangerous. The enemy is living there.”
Some seeking safety in Beni live in schools and other public buildings, while others have been taken in by host families. Among them is that of Gabriel, 43, who was himself displaced twice before settling in Beni’s Madiabuana area with his wife and children. They now host eight displaced families. Despite the insecurity, they risk their lives going to the fields in search of food.
“Finding food is the biggest challenge for us so I go to the fields nearby only when it’s safe,” he said. “I went this morning but I heard gunshots and fled.”
Like others swept up in the violence, he longs for peace.
“In this war, I can’t really have any hope,” said Gabriel. “The only thing we need is peace, nothing else.”
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